Syria's ruling party rejects Israeli invitation for President Assad to visit Jerusalem

Syria on Thursday rejected Israel's invitation for President Bashar Assad to visit Jerusalem, saying the Israeli gesture reflected the country's weak position after its war with Lebanon.

The rejection came in a front page editorial in the ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper, which said: "Israel knows ... that no Syrian citizen would ever accept this invitation."

On Tuesday, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres invited Assad to visit Jerusalem in a TV interview. But Israeli television reported that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had countermanded Peres, fueling the discord over Olmert's hardline policies.

Al-Baath wrote that Peres' move was an attempt to "evade peace and its requirements." It was also "proof of the Israeli government's weakness and failure to face recent changes stemming from the victory of the Lebanese resistance," the editorial said.

Israel waged a 34-day offensive against Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas after they seized two of its soldiers in July, but it failed to crush the militant group and gain the soldiers' release.

Al-Baath added: "Peace cannot be achieved through unacceptable protocol visits."

Israeli-Syrian peace talks broke down in 2000, with Syria demanding assurances that Israel would return all of the Golan Heights, extending down to the Sea of Galilee, a strategic plateau that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

Israel wanted modifications to the pre-1967 border, and insisted that the issues of security arrangements and normalization be spelled out first.

Al-Baath said the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1978, and the ensuing peace treaty the following year, had failed to bring peace to the Arab and Egyptian people, reports AP.

Assad has renewed in recent weeks his call for peace talks with Israel. Last month, he told the German magazine Der Spiegel: "We want to make peace - peace with Israel."

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday, Assad cast doubt on Israel's desire for peace.

"The first question is, can (Israel make peace) and do they have the will? he told the BBC. "Second, the decision for peace is not in Israel, it is in Washington ... Third, it depends on the will of the United Nations."